Addressing an emergency summit of Vatican officials and American Catholic leaders, including twelve cardinals and two bishops, the pontiff expressed hope that the scandal would eventually result in “a holier priesthood.”
He offered comforting words to victims of priest abuse, saying, “To the victims and their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern.”
The meeting is expected to determine whether the church will implement a policy on expelling pedophiles from the priesthood and turning them over to civil authorities. Leaders are speculating whether the pope will call for a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for priests who commit misconduct, or whether abusive priests should get a second chance.
John Paul expressed deep grievance at the scandal, saying, “The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society: it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God.” He also said that pedophiles must not be allowed to seek refuge in the priesthood.
The ailing 81-year-old pontiff asked American Catholics to stand by their priests and bishops in a period of deep crisis, saying the scandal should not tarnish the reputation of the entire church.
“A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains,” he said.
John Paul did not encourage discussion of a change in the celibacy rule for priests, despite speculation that a policy change could result from the scandal. The pontiff said Catholics “must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality.”
Boston Cardinal Bernard Law was among the attendees in Rome. Law has come under fire after admitting he reassigned pedophile priests from parish to parish, and is facing intense pressure to step down. Despite such pressure, the issue of Law’s resignation was not raised during the meetings, according to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George.
Law did, however, issue an apology to his fellow Catholic leaders, saying, “If I hadn’t made some terrible mistakes, they probably wouldn’t be at the Vatican this week.”
Similar scandals involving the clergy have emerged in recent years, in such countries as Austria, Poland, Ireland, Mexico and France.